Students Going Somewhere . . . Very Fast

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Micah Lee, Taylor Miller and Christian Brooks.
Micah Lee, Taylor Miller and Christian Brooks.

by Beverly Amsler

Several colleges and universities throughout Southwestern Virginia showed off their technological skills at the annual Technology Expo held last week at the Roanoke Civic Center.

Among them were members of Virginia Tech’s BOLT (Battery Operated Land Transport) team.  The ten senior mechanical engineering students were showcasing their fully electric racing motorcycle.

“It’s just a really cool project that opens up a lot of engineering opportunities”, said Micah Lee from Chesapeake.  “There (are) tons of engineering skills that had to be applied.  And we are one of only three colleges in the country to be doing it so it’s really kind of a bragging point; get in on it . . .  It’s meant to showcase electric vehicle technology.”

Lee says unlike Tech’s EcoCAR, which won a national contest last year, the competition in this challenge isn’t another college, it’s a professional racing series.

“It can easily be (adapted) for consumer technology and several of the racing teams do that.  They sell production bikes.  We’re [planning to keep] it as a racing platform.  This year’s bike will be passed on to next year’s team and they will be building their own bike while using this as a show-piece to help raise money for the team.”

He said electric vehicles are viable in practicality and performance.  “It’s cleaner and it runs very fast.”  For example, the motorcycle built by Lee’s team reached top speeds of 98.5 miles an hour recently.  He said it won’t be too long before they’re cracking triple digits.

TTXGP is the name of the international electric bike racing series.  It started in Europe where more than 30 teams compete.  The series then spread to the U. S. which has between 12 and 20 teams.  Lee said teams from all over the world will compete in the World Finals at the Daytona Raceway later this year.

When asked what he’s learned from the project, Lee said, “Things are always much harder than they appear, which I’ve learned in other forms but this was a particularly tangible manifestation of that.  You’re going to spend literally 48 hours awake trying to work on something and it’s still not happening and you’re going to miss a test date.  And, it’s extremely disappointing and you learn, ‘Man, this is a lot harder that it looks’.  But then you get it working and it’s an incredible sense of accomplishment.”

Lee said he’d like to build his own electric bike someday.

Tech’s winning EcoCAR was also on display at the Technology Expo.  The hybrid electric vehicle won last year’s competition hosted by General Motors and the Department of Energy.

According to senior mechanical engineering student Matthew McWhite from Bristol, “This vehicle is a series parallel hybrid where there’s an engine that runs on [] fuel as well as a battery pack that powers a reattraction motor.  So we have the ability to drive the front axle with the engine and drive the rear axle with the battery pack in the motor.”  The car can go 50 miles on pure electricity and then drive another 150 on gasoline.

He says the average commute is less than 40 miles a day.  It can plug in to a standard 120 volt outlet and is fully charged in about eight hours.

Fifteen colleges, including Virginia Tech, are involved in the new 3-year challenge which is based on plug-in vehicles.  McWhite says the gasoline engine will continue to be a backup to extend the capacity of the electric motor.